Tom Comack @dgldemocrat

It's the end of an era and the dawning of a new age for second level schools football and hurling in Donegal.

After being governed by the Donegal Vocational Schools board for the best part of 60 years, Donegal schools GAA will this year be run by the new integrated Ulster Schools GAA for the very first time.

The Donegal Vocational Schools board was set up in 1960 by Eddie McDevitt, Gene McGinley and Monsignor Dan McDyer.

Ulster Schools is now the governing body for all second level football and hurling in the province following the amalgamation of the Ulster Colleges and the Ulster Vocational Schools boards.

Ulster has been the last of the four provinces to embrace a system that's been in operation in the other three provinces for the last few seasons.

St Eunan’s College, De La Salle in Ballyshannon and its successor Coláiste Cholmcille, and in more recent years Coláiste Inishowen - an amalgamation of the four second level schools in Inishowen - all competed in Ulster Colleges competitions.

The remaining schools all competed in competitions run by the Donegal Vocational Board which was a member of the Ulster Vocational Board.

And the Donegal winners and runners-up in the various championships qualified to play in Ulster Vocational Schools competitions.

The new amalgamated Ulster Schools will run competitions in six different grades - A, B ,C, D, E and F - with all the blue riband trophies, MacRory, MacLarnon, Markey and Arthurs Cups all still the top competitions.

St Eunan’s and Coláiste Inishowen will compete in B competitions, the equivalent of the old Ulster Colleges B competitions.

Pobalscoil Gaoth Dobhair; PCC Falcarragh; St Columba’s, Stranorlar; Carndonagh CS; Coláiste Na Carraige; St Catherine’s Vocational School; Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyhannon; St Columba’s CS, Glenties and Rosses Community School are the schools that will compete in the C grade competitions.

Coláiste Ailigh, Letterkenny; Magh Ene, Bundoran; Gairmscoil Chú Uladh, Ballinamore; Finn Valley College, Stranorlar and Mulroy College, Milford are the Donegal schools in the E division.

Deele College, Raphoe; Crana College, Buncrana; Scoil Mhuire, Buncrana and Moville Community School are the teams in the F division.

Due to the geography of the county, Donegal is divided into two regions along the traditional north and south divide for the teams in the C grade.

These groups will play-off among themselves with three teams from one of the groups and two from the other qualifying for the Ulster quarter-finals.

“It is a big change, but we are looking forward to it,” said Donegal Vocational Board chairman, Noel Ward, Coláiste Na Carraige.

“No doubt there will be teething problems and it will take the new body time to find its feet.

“My only reservation is that I feel they have set very tight deadlines for the completion of competitions.

“Going on the schedule drawn up it is very tight and as far as I can see there is just one week to play with over the whole U-14 and U-16 calendars for replays, etc.

“But other than that, the change is welcome and it is now a matter of all schools embracing it.”

Noel also shares the duties of Donegal representative on the new Ulster Schools body with Gareth Doherty, also Coláiste Na Carraige, on the Ulster Schools board.

Jimmy Smyth from Armagh, and former chairman of the Ulster Vocational Schools board, is the chairman of the new body.

Seamus Woods, Tyrone, the outgoing secretary of the former Ulster Colleges for a number of years, is the secretary of the new board.

The Donegal Vocational Board is to remain in place but purely as a sub-committee of the Donegal county board, and has no involvement in the running of competitions.

“We hope to play-off for the Donegal title among the teams that qualify from the groups but we will have no part whatsoever in the running of the competitions,” Noel Ward said.

The U-14 and U-16 competitions are due to get underway the week after next. The senior competitions, MacRory, MacLarnon and Markey Cups, are due to get up and running in the first weeks of October.

In hurling, schools can enter either individually or can amalgamate with others.

For the coming season a Letterkenny area team made up of St Eunan’s College, Colaiste Ailigh and Errigal College, and a Buncrana area team made up of Crana College and Scoil Muire, will compete in senior hurling. They are both in the C Division.

The Donegal launch of the new Ulster Schools season is on Monday next, September 12th, in the Sean MacCumhaill Centre in Ballybofey at 7.30 pm. At the launch all the schools will receive a new set of jerseys funded by the Donegal Vocational Schools board and through sponsorship from Michael Murphy Sports & Leisure.